By Juan Cole / Informed Comment

On Monday, Bernie Sanders gave a historic speech at J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby that still believes in a two state solution. The lying roll of soiled toilet paper that is Breitbart (Trump’s party organ) reported with horror that Sanders had addressed an “anti-Israel” group. Now, in the circles of President Bannon and his mini-me Steve Miller unless you wholeheartedly support the Likud colonization project and the erasure of the Palestinian people, you are “anti-Israel.”

What did Sanders say to provoke such rage on the white supremacist Right?

He talked about his love for Israel, his admiration for its accomplishments against the backdrop of the Holocaust, and his experience at a kibbutz near Haifa in 1963. Then he let his audience have it, Bernie-style:

…as you all know, there was another side to the story of Israel’s creation, a more painful side. Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees.

To acknowledge this painful historical fact does not “delegitimize” Israel, any more than acknowledging the Trail of Tears delegitimizes the United States of America.

That’s it. He simply recognized the historical reality that 720,000 or so Palestinians, out of 1.2 million inhabiting Palestine in 1947, were made homeless refugees by the rise of Israel. To believe anything else would be to believe fake history.

Many of those 720,000 were deliberately expelled by militant Zionist paramilitaries or by terrorist groups such as the Stern Gang and the Haganah. They have grown to millions now, many of them still living in squalid camps, in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. And no, that isn’t their own fault or that of their hosts. It is Israel’s fault. That so many of them are stateless, lacking citizenship and basic human rights, is also Israel’s fault, and is a result of deliberate Israeli policy.

Sanders dismissed Trump’s recent statements on a two-state versus a one-state solution as mere bloviating. He wanted to know what, in practice, a final settlement would look like:

If Palestinians in the occupied territories are to be denied self-determination in a state of their own, will they receive full citizenship and equal rights in a single state, potentially meaning the end of a Jewish majority state? These are very serious questions with significant implications for America’s broader regional partnerships and goals.

Sanders continued:

Friends, the United States and the State of Israel have a strong bond, going back to the moment of Israel’s founding. There is no question that we should be, and will be Israel’s strong friend and ally in the years to come. At the same time, we must recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people runs contrary to fundamental American values.

What Sanders is doing here is demolishing typical Israeli propaganda points (hasbara) wherein Israel is simply a victim of the Palestinians and in which Palestinians are demonized as Khamas and terrorists and violent and irrationally angry. He is acknowledging that Palestinians are held under Israeli military rule in a state of occupation, decades after any war that might have justified such an occupation had ended.

Then he addressed the controversy over the Obama administration’s decision not to veto a UN resolution condemning the accelerating Israeli colonization drive in the Palestinian West Bank:

As former Secretary of State John Kerry rightly said in his speech in December, ‘Friends need to tell each other the hard truths.’ And the hard truth is that the continued occupation and the growth of Israeli settlements that the occupation sustains, undermines the possibility of peace. It contributes to suffering and violence.

As the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed on December 23, the settlements also constitute a flagrant violation of international law. I applaud the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334.

So lets see. Sanders acknowledged the Nakba or Catastrophe of displacement imposed on the Palestinians by Jews in 1947-48. He acknowledged the injustices and humiliations of the ongoing Occupation. He applauded the working of the international community to condemn this violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied peoples.

What he said is simple common sense and common decency, and yet Sanders was condemned. In Trump’s America, it is a criminal offense to be a Mensch.

The other sensation caused by truth-telling about the horrors of the Israeli occupation of the stateless Palestinians concerns comedian Asef Harel, who signed off his Israeli television show with an epic rant against Israeli Apartheid. His argument is clear, and I will just leave you with it. For anyone who knows anything serious about the Mideast, there is nothing at all controversial in what Harel said. But it is causing waves. That is because on the issue of Israel, large numbers of people prefer to inhabit a fantasy land of their own imaginations rather than confront cold truths.


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